SPOILER ALERT: This review contains some plot details of “House of Cards” season 3.
The tail end of last month saw the highly anticipated release of “House of Cards” season 3, the chronicle of American politician Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) using his immense political skill, cunning, and underhandedness to acquire power at the highest levels of the United States government. At the end of last season, we saw the unthinkable happen: Frank’s plans, paved with destruction and blood, had finally led him to the White House, as he was sworn in as President of the United States.
As we find out over the course of this season, though, wanting power and having it are two entirely different animals, animals that may end up swallowing Frank and his equally conniving wife Claire (Robin Wright) whole.
One thing that keen fans of the show will find out once they start up the very first episode is that Michael Kelly’s character Doug Stamper, Frank’s chief of staff, survived his encounter with a rock to the back of his head. In fact, a major plot of the season concerns Doug’s recovery and decisions about what he wants to do with his new lease on life. Other characters, like Remy Danton (Mahershala Ali) and Jackie Sharp (Molly Parker) are previous “Underwood disciples” who now question what they want to do with their lives now that they’ve reached a certain threshold of success. In fact, later in the season, even Claire herself has a similar crisis of conscience, brought about by a multitude of factors.
One person who is completely unwavering, though, is Frank himself. The power of the presidency seems to suit him, and he acts as if he’s been training his entire life to take on the role that he’s spent so much time coveting. Still, the presidency comes with a whole new set of difficulties that a Congressman or even the vice president wouldn’t have to deal with, and difficulties on the international stage, particularly with Russian president Viktor Petrov (played brilliantly by Lars Mikkelsen), and a crisis that has broken out in the Middle East.
Still, Frank has a lot of irons in the fire, especially if he wants to keep the job he’s sacrificed so much for (including at least two people). Since he’s taking over the term remainder for the previous president, he has to come up with a battle plan about how he’s going to win the next election in 2016. Facing opponents in both his own party and in the opposing one, Frank and Claire have to try and launch a calculated campaign in order to win back the White House. The problem is, though, that — as usual — Frank is willing to go further than anyone else. This time, that may include his equally calculating wife.
The Underwood marriage is a major focus of the season, placed under the microscope — at least in Claire’s case — by Frank’s hiring of a renowned author (played by actor Paul Sparks of “Boardwalk Empire”) to write a book about his ambitious new jobs program. What follows is some of the most revealing character moments of the entire series, and should prove to make some revelatory moments for even the show’s most devoted fans. Still, all of this is then pushed into the season’s final few episodes, and with the addition of an old subplot making a disjointed and rather unsatisfactory return — along with having a disappointing resolution — it seems like the show is kind of written into a corner as we now wait a year for the fourth season to premiere.
“House of Cards” is still great television, with engaging characters and enough political intrigue to fill up the Washington Monument (or, in Frank’s case, maybe Arlington National Cemetery). While the presidential election will likely give the show a lot of political fuel on which to thrive next year, there are other, more personal elements that need to be tweaked in order to maintain the level of interest audiences have now spent three years cultivating. Whether showrunner Beau Willimon and his team of writers is truly up to the task remains to be seen, but if anything, the performances on display continue to be worth the price of admission on their own. There’s no reason why that element should ever stop being the case.
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